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NFL’S Covid Chill Warmed By Lebron’s Gift

“As a coronavirus crisis threatens the NFL season, the NBA Bubble brings joy and hope in the form of LeBron James’ latest and most impressive triumph, one that is being cursed in the White House.”

Jay Mariotti

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You are excused for oscillating between the primal urge to emit sudden noises — a gasp when LeBron James wins for Kobe Bryant, a howl when another Tampa Bay lab clone rocks Aroldis Chapman, a groan when Tom Brady wants a fifth down — and the unavoidable disgust that the NFL is treating players like medical rats. Celebration is what sports does best, whisking us from whatever’s bothering us to crown champions and pity also-rans, but there remains a pandemic-era awkwardness of placing too much importance on winners and losers.     

Yes, James has won the Bubble, conquering the most arduous mental challenge ever faced by an all-time athlete with a Lakers team that wasn’t all that great. In the process, he made Our President seethe, lifting a trophy days after Donald Trump eviscerated James as “a hater and “a spokesman for the Democratic party, a very nasty spokesman.’’ Might this be the first of many losses for Trump, courtesy of an all-time sports great and activist who heard the critics last year and ached to quiet them? Didn’t this bring honor and finality to the late Bryant and respect for an embattled, family-feuding franchise?     

“We just want our respect. … And I want my damn respect, too,’’ James declared in a mostly empty building at Walt Disney World, home of a weird but fulfilled dream.     

Baseball is a story, too, with the Rays ready to wow America as low-revenue savants who just might hit a historic trifecta: trolling the fallen behemoth Yankees with “New York, New York’’ lyrics, teaching the cheatin’ Houston Asterisks about ethics, then beating the blueblood Dodgers in the World Series. Still, amid the cigars and confetti and restrained revelry, we should have guilty pangs.     

That’s because the NFL doesn’t give two snot swabs about the players’ wellness and safety amid its COVID-19 crisis, outbreaks be damned. This is not only my opinion, as stated often here. Now, players are echoing it. “I think outside of here, the people that don’t have to walk in our building — whether it is the league office, whether it is the NFLPA — they don’t care,” said the Patriots’ Jason McCourty, also leery of the players’ union. “For them, it is not about our best interest, or our health and safety. It’s about, `What can we make protocol-wise that sounds good and looks good? How can we go out there and play games?’ ‘’     

“My true opinion,’’ said the Eagles’ Darius Slay, “is we shouldn’t have even had (a season) because of what’s going on. It’s a difficult time.’’     

And yet, even as the NFL again closes facilities in Tennessee and New England as new positive coronavirus results inevitably pop up, the same corporate defiance prevails: The games are coldly rescheduled, protocols continue to be violated, the league and networks remain fixated on money, and mindless masculinity continues to march on — to the point in college football where a caveman coach, Dan Mullen, wants Florida fans to ignore the infection rates and “pack The Swamp for LSU next week’’ because “I know our governor passed that rule.’’ Jay Z had 99 problems. Gainesville was about to have 90,000 problems, until the school athletic director said otherwise.     

The NFL has COVID problems 24/7, with new cases in the Titans’ and Patriots’ camps requiring the league to move around games like ant traps and making me ask again: Why even attempt this madness? It’s stupefying enough that dozens of players have self-isolated, facilities and practices are routinely shut down, and the league suddenly has no idea when or if a $17 billion season will be completed. It’s an absolute mind-blur when every new headline should be accompanied by a scorching Eddie Van Halen riff. But you know what’s most troubling only a month into what will be a long, excruciating slog likely to include a Week 18, if not more weeks?     

No one is telling us about the children, the wives, the significant others, the parents, the grandparents, the friends, the people out and about in the community — the potential collateral damage when NFL players, coaches and team personnel don’t take the coronavirus seriously and act as super- spreaders. We know that the Titans have been egregious, with a stunning 24 positive cases. We know that a superstar double whammy, Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore, has tested positive in New England. We know Patrick Mahomes, face of the league, shared a post-game bro hug with Gilmore hours before his positive test — “like, I have all my career and not even thinking about it … a mental lapse,’’ Mahomes called it — and since has been sleeping in a bedroom apart from his pregnant girlfriend.     

We know teams have positive tests every day, whether they are fully transparent about the results or not. We know competitive integrity and fairness is a sham, that quality of play will suffer and defenses will be non-existent as attrition and rescheduling exacts a toll. We know this is not a season to take seriously unless one is an owner, a player or a broadcast executive with a deep financial interest. “Unfortunately, Covid is running rampant in our community,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said of life in Wisconsin. “All it takes is one guy to infect everyone else.’’     

“We’re fighting an uphill battle,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “We know there’s a challenge because of how easily this thing spreads.’’     

The bigger question is, what don’t we know?     

How many other people in this country have been infected — and will continue to be infected — because the NFL Insists on bulldozing through a season of games during a pandemic? Has anyone checked in on Gilmore’s wife and their two children? At what point does the urge to recoup billions, and feed networks with the programming inventory they need to stay afloat, verge on the criminal as Roger Goodell and the owners force-feed a season down America’s throat like cyanide? I, for one, was listening closely when the Patriots’ Matthew Slater described his mindset after his team was forced to fly to Kansas City during an incubation period and play the Chiefs. “A lot of us just wanted to make sure we were healthy and not passing anything along to our families,’’ he said.     

So we’re just going to keep doing this dance through October, November, December, January and Super Bowl week in party-minded and pirate-happy Tampa, in a state that largely thinks the coronavirus is a hoax?     

Yes, we are, regrettably. Rather than copy the successful NBA and NHL blueprints of Bubbles — in this case, enveloping each of the 32 franchises, including mandatory hotel stays until seasons conclude — the NFL office is locked in a stubborn ego-and-hubris trip. Goodell and his lieutenants are sticking to a flawed plan that could backfire at any time in any facility. They are convinced the protocols are sound and are pointing fingers at players and coaches for the violations, refusing to acknowledge that the league relaxed, too, and reveled in a God complex when September revealed few COVID-19 positive tests. In the Titans’ case, it’s undeniable that players flouted a league edict by working out at a school — and the organization surely was complicit, which should have warranted a forfeiture of at least one game for a 3-0 team dreaming of a Super Bowl. That is, if we believed Goodell’s memo to teams last week: “Protocol violations that result in virus spread requiring adjustments to the schedule or otherwise impacting other teams will result in additional financial and competitive discipline including the adjustment or loss of draft choices or even the forfeit of a game.’’     

But rather than hammer the Titans where it hurts, in the standings, the league sided with money and ratings by simply moving the much-awaited Titans-Bills game to next weekend, though a large fine is expected. By continuing to punish teams financially and not competitively, the NFL maintains leverage to keep teams out of Bubbles — oh, think of the huge costs! — and places the entire onus on players, coaches and personnel to avoid COVID-19. The demand, of course, is far from failsafe; as witnessed throughout the league, the comprehensive testing system is imperfect, even on a daily basis, such as when Gilmore tested negative before the game in Kansas City when he likely was infected already, leaving dozens of human beings vulnerable to a spread on the field and inside the Patriots’ two planes. That didn’t stop Goodell from being more bullish, now able to play Big Brother with a new league-wide video system that effectively spies on each facility to see if protocols are followed. Can you imagine this Park Avenue conversation …     

Goodell: “I’ve got Tennessee duty again today. I hear through sources that players were at a honky-tonk last night.’’     

Lieutenant A: “I don’t trust Adam Gase with his shoelaces, much less protocol adherence. I’m watching the Jets.’’     

Lieutenant B: “Gruden is a madman who refuses to wear his mask, so Raiders for me.’’     

They can play gotcha all they want. Why would anyone of sound or sane mind think the Tennessee outbreak is an aberration in a league of 2,200-plus players and some 1,500 coaches and support staff? “It takes one guy to go to the grocery store and it’s as simple as that,” said Bills quarterback and early MVP candidate Josh Allen. “You’ve got to hope that guys are wearing their masks and the contact tracers are working.’’ But Goodell is flying blind, and considering he’s capable of bad decisions when he can see, the season ahead is a scary proposition. The virtual Bubbles have a much better chance of working than the status quo. Ask Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, who wouldn’t be pulling off what has become a compelling postseason without forcing teams into Bubbles this month in Texas and California. The NFLPA would need extra incentives, but the Titans’ outbreak might have changed players’ minds about restrictive confinement. Said Mahomes: “If it happened, for me, I love the game and I know how special this team is, so I’d be willing.’’     

In truth, the NFL and college football’s Power Five conferences aren’t receiving enough public backlash about exposing players to danger. When much of America isn’t treating the coronavirus with appropriate concern — starting with the continuing follies of the COVIDiot-in-Chief, football’s powers-that-be can afford to be cavalier and keep playing the games so the billions roll in. Then they trot out their versions of Tony Fauci — in the NFL’s case, Dr. Allen Sills, who says, “It’s critically important that we do not grow complacent in our rigorous application of measures proven to be impactful. This 2020 season, our common opponent is COVID — it’s all of us together versus the virus.”     

Unless you’re the Titans, who have adopted a bizarre us-versus-the-media stance when they should be thankful those infected are recovering. “It’s a snap-to-judgment society that we live in today,’’ said quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who also doesn’t trust the testing system. “People feel empowered to have strong opinions and go to extremes without knowing the details of how things went down. I’m of the opinion that you should find out details before you jump down someone’s throat.’’     

Though pandemic sports viewership is significantly gutted — even the almighty NFL was down 10 percent heading into Week 5 — enough people are watching to more than keep the lights on at the leagues and networks. If Trump and Joe Biden are the main entertainment on the phalanx of news channels, sports continues to be an effective sideshow. And the games have delivered, whether it’s a close finish or the return of Washington’s Alex Smith from his grotesque broken leg, a glorious scene tarnished when Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a gruesome ankle injury. This is why the NFL and college football ramble on, figuring enough people are interested — look, Nick Saban thinks Lane Kiffin knew his defensive signals — to keep pushing a dangerous envelope. As I’ve said at least 99 times, football is not played in a Bubble. The NBA season was.     

Which allowed James to win his fourth championship — for Kobe, for a Lakers franchise not long ago in disarray, for social justice and, of course, for himself. This one will not make him the greatest basketball player ever, but it will give him peace, going on age 36, that he overcame attrition and emotional fatigue when his younger rivals did not. What are Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo thinking when they weren’t good enough to even reach the Finals? When twice-fired head coach Frank Vogel, who was supposed to be knifed in the back by assistant Jason Kidd, earned James’ respect — and won a title that rescued the slumping reputations of owner Jeanie Buss and basketball boss Rob Pelinka? Jimmy Butler was LeBron’s equal for five games, but he and the Heat ran out of juice.     

“There were times I questioned whether I should be here,’’ James said. “Is it worth sacrificing my family? I’ve never been away from my family for so long. Shout out here to the late, great Steve Jobs. Without him, those FaceTime calls wouldn’t have happened.     

“Our ballclub got here back on July 9. It’s October 11 now. This was very challenging and difficult. It played with your mind and your body. You were away from the things that made you successful.’’     

But he kept hearing the voices of doom. “There were still rumblings of doubt when comparing me in the history of the game: `Has he done this, has he done that?’ Having that in my mind fueled me,’’ he said.     

He also knew that a divided America needed his voice. “Social injustice, voter suppression, police brutality — to have this platform, it’s something you will miss and think back on,’’ James said. “We also had zero positive tests for as long as we were down here — 95 days for myself. I had a little calendar I was checking off. But seriously, zero positive tests. That is an accomplishment.’’     

There will be no parades in Los Angeles, where, unlike Florida, the city is too fixated on COVID to issue special event permits. But the Dodgers are inviting fans to Chavez Ravine for a drive-in watch party in the parking lot. Price per car for each game of the National League championship series in Arlington, Texas: $75, with fans allowed to bring food and non-alcoholic beverages. The Dodgers require masks if fans want to use restrooms, which is more prudent than what they’re doing in Arlington, where MLB is only defeating the Bubble purpose by permitting 11,500 fans per game. Are Manfred and Dan Mullen sharing notes?      

The dream World Series in L.A. — and for America, really — would be Dodgers-Astros. That way, after three years of organizational and fan-base anger about Houston scamming to win the 2017 Series, the Dodgers would have a legitimate revenge shot, not having to settle for Joe Kelly throwing at Houston batters and making pouty faces. Imagine, Dodger Blue beating the unrepentant liars days before the election. But baseball operations president Andrew Friedman may have been premature in saying this on Sirius XM radio: ““Like, I get that it’s been a difficult year for them, but to play the victim card, I think, has been, you know, a curious strategy.’’ See, loaded as the lineup is, the Dodgers still have Kenley Jansen issues. And not having an established closer could be trouble against the Braves and their mashers, accompanied by a pitching staff that has thrown four postseason shutouts.     

Inside quiet ballparks such as San Diego, site of the American League championship series, at least the Astros can say they don’t need to steal signs and bang trash cans to win. A formidable lineup makes contact and puts pressure on pitchers, with Carlos Correa in MVP form. And they aren’t gloating as much, refusing to rip critics like before. “Absolutely not. We’re motivated because we want to win,’’ Correa said. “We want to bring another championship to Houston. We know what it feels like, so we want have that feeling once again. 2017 was such a special year celebrating with the fans in Houston. The thing that motivates is to get to feel that again.’’     

Ugh. No longer armed with Gerrit Cole and the injured Justin Verlander, the Astros will be underdogs against the Rays, who manufacture victories with skilled starting pitching, a fireballing bullpen and typical Tampa creations such as Cardinals castoff Randy Arozarena, a Cuban defector who spent his own COVID quarantine doing 300 daily pushups and adding 15 pounds of muscle. The result has been a Mr. October transformation, his power bat spooking the Yankees. The conquering hero is Mike Brosseau, an undrafted find who symbolizes the Rays Way. Remember when the snarling Chapman almost beheaded him in September with a 101-mph heater, which led to counter threats by manager Kevin Cash? On the 10th pitch of an all-time at-bat, Brosseau sent a 100-mph pitch over the fence, giving the small-market Rays their latest triumph over the pinstriped colossus.     

As the celebration continued in fan-vacant Petco Park, first baseman Ji-Man Choi was kicking over and stomping on a recycling bin. Hello, Houston. You have a problem. Might the Rays join the NHL’s Lightning in a Tampa Bay title perfecta, pandemic style? Brady and the Buccaneers would love to join the fun, but last we saw our ageless wonder in Chicago, he was raising four fingers after his final incompletion, trying to trick the officials into giving him another try. Is that how desperate he has become with a team battling penalties and injuries? “When you’re 43 years old, as you start to get older, it becomes harder to come back from these types of games,” Fox analyst Troy Aikman said. Brady says he doesn’t miss the cold weather of New England, calling himself “a Floridian for as long as I can envision now.’’ At this point, with Brady throwing clipboards and Newton recovering from COVID, the Great Brady-Belichick 2020 comparison debate is on hold.

It could be our grandest sports memory of 2020 is Rafael Nadal in Paris. Not because he won his 13th French Open title and 20th Grand Slam event, which places him a tie with Roger Federer for most all-time, but because he provided precious dignity. He beat Novak Djokovic, the ugly man who threw a summer COVID party and infected himself and others, then was tossed from the U.S. Open when he whacked a ball in frustration and struck a linesperson in the throat. But it was Nadal’s commentary on the global mood that will stick.     

“The feeling is more sad than usual,” the Spaniard said. “Maybe that’s what it needs to feel like. It needs to be sad. Many people in the world are suffering.’’     

Perspective. Why must we cross an ocean to find it?

BSM Writers

Beyond The Mask: Henrik Lundqvist Embraced 2nd Career in Sports Media

“It’s not a coincidence you see a lot of goalies working [on] panels and analyzing the game because that’s a huge part of playing in goal.”

Derek Futterman

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Plucking the strings of an acoustic guitar, Henrik Lundqvist found himself beneath the bright lights once again, poised to put on a worthy performance. Just as he aimed to stop pucks from going in the net as the star goaltender of the New York Rangers for 15 seasons, Lundqvist sought to captivate viewers as half of a musical duo featuring former NHL forward Paul Bissonnette.

Their performance of “Good Riddance” by Green Day was in tribute to Rick Tocchet, a former NHL on TNT studio analyst who recently departed the network to serve as interim head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.

Lundqvist serves as a studio analyst for TNT’s coverage of the NHL, breaking down players and teams throughout the broadcast and bringing his own unique style to the set. His pursuit of a post-playing career in sports media was no guarantee from the moment he retired in August 2021; in fact, he never intended to stop playing the game and competing for a Stanley Cup championship at that time.

During the 2019-20 season, Lundqvist had lost playing time to young goaltenders Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev, and by the year’s end, his deal was bought out by the team. In an effort to continue playing, Lundqvist signed a contract with the Washington Capitals – marking the first time in his NHL career that he would not step between the pipes for the Rangers.

Lundqvist never played a game for the team though, as it was discovered in a medical exam that he would need open-heart surgery to replace his aortic valve while also having an aortic root and ascending aortic replacement. One month after the successful five-hour operation, he was back on the ice rehabbing and attempting to make a full recovery – but a few months in, he began to feel unexpected chest pain. Following a medical checkup, Lundqvist was told he had inflammation around his heart caused by exertion. It was a significant setback that required him to step off the ice, take off his goaltender equipment and rest for several months.

After discussions with his family and friends, Lundqvist determined that the risk of taking the ice outweighed the rewards and officially stepped away from the game. Rather than conjuring hypothetical scenarios wherein he did not experience the misfortune and played for the Capitals, Lundqvist looked to the future amid the ongoing global pandemic and thought about how he could best enjoy his retirement.

“I was just mentally in a very good place,” Lundqvist said. “I didn’t have a choice; I guess that makes it easier sometimes when the decision is made because you can’t go back-and-forth – ‘Should I?’ ‘Should I not?’ Yeah, I wanted to play but it was just not meant to be for me.”

Before any definitive resolution on his future endeavors was made though, the Rangers announced that the team would retire Lundqvist’s No. 30 in a pregame ceremony during the 2021-22 season, making him just the 11th player bestowed that honor in franchise history. As a five-time NHL All-Star selection, 2011 Vezina Trophy winner, and holder of numerous franchise records, Lundqvist had the accolades to merit this profound distinction.

Moreover, he was an important component in growing the game of hockey and contributing to the greater community, serving as the official spokesperson for the Garden of Dreams Foundation and founder of the Henrik Lundqvist Foundation. He also was a two-time recipient of the organization’s prestigious Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, honoring the player “who goes above and beyond the call of duty.”

Throughout the night, attendees regaled Lundqvist with chants of “Hen-rik!” and were treated to flashbacks of some of his memorable career moments. The night was of monumental importance for Lundqvist, during which he expressed his gratitude to the Rangers’ organization, former teammates and fans. Then, Lundqvist — referred to as “The King” — promptly took his place among team legends beneath the concave ceiling of “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”

“When I look back at my career, I know, to me, it was all about preparation; how I practiced and how I prepared for each game at practice,” Lundqvist said. “There’s no regrets, and I hope people, when they think about how I played, [know] that it was 100% heart and commitment to the game.”

Before this ceremony though, Lundqvist and Rangers owner James Dolan had held several meetings with one another. The purpose of these conversations was to determine the best way for Lundqvist to remain involved with the team, its fans, and the community. In the end, he was named as a lead studio analyst on MSG Networks’ broadcasts of New York Rangers hockey before the start of the 2021-22 season: the start of his foray in sports media.

This past summer, Lundqvist negotiated a new deal with Madison Square Garden Sports and Madison Square Garden Entertainment in which he maintained his in-studio responsibilities while increasing involvement in other areas of its sports and entertainment ventures. In this new role, Lundqvist supports the business operations for both companies, assisting in digital content development, alumni relations, and partner and sponsor activities.

When Lundqvist is not in the studio or the office, he can often be found at Madison Square Garden taking in New York Rangers hockey, New York Knicks basketball, or one of the arena’s renowned musical performances. Usually, when he is in attendance, he is shown on the arena’s center-hung video board as an “NYC Celebrity” and receives a thunderous ovation from the crowd.

“The network is just part of it, but it feels great to come there,” Lundqvist said of Madison Square Garden. “Every time I go there – to see the people that I’ve known for so long – but also I love that place; I love The Garden. I think the energy [and] the variety of things that happen there is something I really appreciate. It feels really good to be a part of that.”

Sitting alongside former teammate and studio analyst Steve Valiqutte and sportscaster John Giannone, Lundqvist appears in the MSG Networks studios, located across the street from the arena, for select New York Rangers games. From the onset, he brought his allure and expertise to the set and appealed to viewers – so much so that national networks quickly began to take notice.

“I enjoy watching hockey [and] talking hockey, but the main thing to me is the team; the people that you work with,” Lundqvist said. “The guys on the panel [and the] crew behind. I really enjoy that part of it and having a lot of fun off-camera.”

One month later, Lundqvist was on his first national broadcast for the NHL on TNT where he and Bissonnette famously performed a cover of “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica that went viral on social media. It had been known that Lundqvist was a musician, famously performing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in his Rangers uniform to celebrate the end of the 2012-13 NHL lockout.

In fact, during his retirement ceremony, the Rangers gifted him with a custom-made guitar painted by David Gunnarsson, the same artist who used to paint Lundqvist’s goalie masks.

Aside from occasional music performances, Lundqvist brings an esoteric base of knowledge to the NHL on TNT panel as its only goaltender. Whether it be through player breakdowns, interviews, or dialogue with other analysts, Lundqvist has a perspective to which few professional hockey players can relate. There are various goaltenders among local studio panels surrounding live hockey game broadcasts, and Lundqvist is in a unique situation with MSG Networks in that he and Valiquette are both former goaltenders. Yet on Turner Sports’ national coverage, he is the only voice speaking to this different part of the game.

“It’s not a coincidence you see a lot of goalies working [on] panels and analyzing the game because that’s a huge part of playing in goal,” Lundqvist explained. “Yes, you need to stop the puck, but a huge part of being a goalie is analyzing what’s going on. We can never really dictate the play so you need to analyze what’s happening right in front of you.”

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NHL ON TNT STUDIO

In broadcasting at both the local and national level, Lundqvist is cognizant of the differences in each network’s studio programs. Lundqvist says appearing on the MSG Networks studio panel is more about being direct with the viewer, whereas the NHL on TNT views its panel as being conversational in nature. With Turner Sports, Lundqvist also asks his colleagues about the different teams around the league since he is most familiar with the Rangers both as a former player and studio analyst.

“I’m closer to the Rangers; I see more of what’s going on,” Lundqvist stated. “When you work [national] games, maybe you focus in on teams on the West Coast or [part] of the league you don’t see as often. You try to talk to the other guys on the panel and the crew and figure out things that are interesting about those teams.”

Hockey is a team sport, and Lundqvist felt grateful to play with his teammates and face his competitors over the years. Now as an analyst though, it is his job to analyze their games and critique them when necessary; however, he does not try to be excessively critical.

Lundqvist knows the trials and tribulations associated with the sport and can relate to scenarios many players face on a nightly basis. Therefore, he thinks about his own experience before giving an opinion, especially a critique, instantiating it with comprehensible, recondite knowledge and/or by recounting a similar situation.

“I’d much rather give them positive feedback obviously because I know it is a tough game,” Lundqvist said, “and sometimes it might look like an easy mistake, but if you can give the viewer a better explanation of why he did that, they might have a different view of that mistake.”

Now metaphorically being beyond the goalie mask, Lundqvist’s vision of the game has evidently shifted. He discerns just how intense the schedule is and the rapid pace of the game, axioms he was aware of while playing but inherently avoided thinking about. He has implemented his refined viewpoint of the game accordingly into his analysis, simultaneously utilizing the mindset and savvy he cultivated on the ice. It is, quite simply, a balancing act.

“I think people can be pretty quick to jump on guys and critique them,” Lundqvist said. “That’s where maybe you take an extra look and try to understand why it happened and give those reasons. I think that’s where it helps if you played the game [for] a long time and just love the game [because] you have a pretty good understanding of why guys react a certain way.”

The challenge tacitly embedded in the jobs of most studio analysts – Lundqvist’s included – is in presenting the information to the audience in a manner through which it learns without being confused. It is a delicate craft that takes time and genuine understanding to master, especially related to promulgating hockey analytics as Valiquette does on MSG Networks and within his company, Clear Sight Analytics.

“There’s a lot of educated viewers out there, but there’s also a lot of people that maybe don’t watch as much hockey,” Lundqvist said, “so you want to find that middle ground where you kind of educate both sides.”

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LUNDQVIST 4

By broadcasting both locally and nationally in addition to working in a specially-designed business operations role, Lundqvist is staying around the rink in his retirement while facilitating the growth of hockey. Despite the profusion of young talent, dynamic action and jaw-dropping plays, viewership of the sport on ESPN and TNT’s linear channels has dropped 22% from last season, according to a report by Sports Business Journal.

For Lundqvist though, he does not feel much has changed from playing regarding his responsibility to advance the reach and appeal of the sport. He played professionally for 20 years, beginning his career in his home country of Sweden, primarily in the Swedish Elite League (SEL). In the 2004-05 season, his final campaign before arriving in New York City, Lundqvist had won the award for most valuable player. Furthermore, he was recognized as the best goalie and best player, leading Frölunda HC to its second Elitserien championship in three seasons.

His NHL debut came five years after he was selected in the seventh round of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Rangers but unlike many rookies over the years, he came polished and prepared to embrace the lights of Broadway. Following an injury to starting goaltender Kevin Weekes, Lundqvist was inserted into the starting lineup and, from that moment on, virtually never came out.

By the end of his first year, he had been named to the NHL All-Rookie Team and was a Vezina Trophy finalist for best goaltender. Additionally, he remains the only goaltender to begin his NHL career with seven consecutive 30-plus win seasons.

“I think the league is doing a great job of growing the game,” Lundqvist said. “In the end, it comes down to the product and right now, it’s a great product. I feel really good about, the best way I can, to promote the game [by] talking about it, but… it feels like I’ve been doing that for 20 years.”

One means through which Lundqvist attempts to grow the game is within the studio demos he performs with the NHL on TNT, displaying different facets of the game in a technical manner. The show also embraces the characteristics of their analysts and implements them in lighthearted segments, such as zamboni races, putting competitions, Swedish lessons and, of course, musical performances.

“I’m huge on mindset and the pressure,” Lundqvist said. “I love to talk about that type of stuff and give the viewer a better understanding of what goes through their heads. In terms of personality, I don’t know if I can say [that] I’m a serious guy because I love to have fun and laugh and do fun things.”

Lundqvist thoroughly enjoys what he is doing both locally and nationally, and he ensures he surrounds himself with people he wants to be around. There are plenty of other broadcast opportunities for former hockey players, such as moving into the booth as a color commentator or between the benches as a rinkside reporter. At this moment though, he is more focused on being immersed in his current roles, performing them to the best of his ability while ensuring he allocates time to spend with friends and family.

“I see myself more as an analyst in the studio more than traveling around and being in the rink,” he said. “I think that’s another thing with the schedule; it works really well with my schedule to have one or two commitments with the networks, but then I have other things going on in my life that I commit to.”

Plenty of comparisons can be drawn between playing professional hockey and covering the sport from the studio in terms of preparation and synergy. Yet the end result is not as clearly defined since “winning” in television is quantifiably defined as generating ratings and revenue. Undoubtedly, Lundqvist is focused on doing what he can to bolster hockey’s popularity; however, he also wants to enjoy this new phase of his career being around the game he loves.

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“In sports, you win or you lose,” Lundqvist explained. “With TV, you want to be yourself [and] you want to get your point out – but at the same time, if you do it at the same time you’re having a good time, I feel like that’s good TV.”

Once their careers conclude, many athletes think about pursuing a post-playing career and oftentimes end up taking on a role in sports broadcasting. On MSG Networks alone, there are plenty of former players who take part in studio coverage on live game broadcasts, such as Martin Biron of the Buffalo Sabres, Bryce Salvador of the New Jersey Devils, and Matt Martin of the New York Islanders. At the national level, Turner Sports employs Paul Bissonnette, Anson Carter, and Wayne Gretzky for its studio broadcasts, while ESPN’s top studio crew includes Mark Messier and Chris Chelios.

All of these former professional hockey players had an obligation to regularly speak with media members, answering questions about games and the season at large. Lundqvist maintained a professional relationship with journalists and beat reporters, and he most enjoyed taking questions when the team was doing well. Regardless of what the end result of a game was though, he had a responsibility to divulge his thoughts and, in turn, be subject to criticism and/or negative feedback.

His stellar career and persona all came from emanating a passion for the game – and it continues to manifest itself beyond the television screen. Listening to those passionate about the game discuss it usually engenders euphony and lucidity to viewers, analogous to the sound of the puck hitting the pads or entering the glove. It is a timbre Lundqvist created 27,076 times throughout his NHL career (regular season and playoffs) in preventing goals, and one he now aims to explain en masse.

“The reason why I kept going to the rink and put all the hours in was because I really enjoyed it,” Lundqvist said. “If you decide to go into media or whatever it might be, I think the bottom line is [that] you have to enjoy it and make sure you have good people around you.”

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Should the NBA Nationalize Local TV Rights Like MLS?

The NBA’s upcoming rights negotiations will be this transformational idea’s first testing grounds.

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Diamond Sports has been anything but a diamond in the sports world. As subscribers leave cable and satellite for streaming services, companies are dropping RSNs nationwide because they are too expensive to carry. This has caused an impending bankruptcy for the company, which owns the local rights to dozens of sports teams nationwide. It is also putting the NBA, NHL, and MLB at major financial risk. 

In the short term, it is known that teams will still broadcast on their RSNs even if they aren’t getting the paychecks they were promised in previous rights deals. This will affect teams’ ability to pay players and could even create an unfair advantage among the haves of the sports world like the Yankees and Lakers and the have-nots. The NFL doesn’t face the same problems that the other leagues are facing because its rights have been nationalized.

With the NFL’s continued television dominance, college conferences also bundling up games together for more money, and the MLS guaranteeing themselves television revenue after packaging local and national rights together, could we see the other leagues follow suit? It is an option that is much easier said than done but it seems like we are moving closer to it becoming reality. 

The NBA’s upcoming rights negotiations will be this transformational idea’s first testing grounds.

The biggest problem the NBA and other leagues would face are that the local rights to all of its teams don’t expire at the same time. If the league were to sign a deal that included giving all local rights to a streamer, the amount which the league was getting paid would be very unique year after year. It would be crazy for a streamer to pay a huge chunk of money to the NBA all at once if the number of teams they have local rights to changes every year.

It would also be insane to pay an astronomical amount if the streamer is only getting the local rights to small-market teams like the Cavs and the Pistons. A major market team like the Lakers doesn’t renew their local rights until 2032. We’re still in 2023. How does that affect the league’s operating costs? 

The NBA would also have to figure out whether teams whose rights don’t expire yet deserve to be included in the pot of money garnered from selling local rights to a streamer. Whether they are or they aren’t, does it put each team at different competitive advantages and/or disadvantages when trying to acquire free agents or front-office personnel?

One of the most interesting puzzles to figure out is what influence a league owner like Washington’s Ted Leonsis has in this potential measure when all is said and done. Leonsis just acquired complete control of the regional sports network — currently named NBC Sports Washington — that broadcasts Wizards and Capitals games for millions of dollars, although the exact amount remains undisclosed.

What does Leonsis do with his network if his team’s games can no longer air there? Can his team opt out of participating in a potential league offering? Or if the games continue to air on his network but are simulcasted locally on the streamer that wins local rights on a national scale, does the streamer have the ability to pay less money for rights?

If so, does that make the deal as lucrative for the NBA? And what does that mean for retransmission fees that cable companies like Comcast pay to Leonsis and other RSNs they’re still carrying?

The league will face a similar problem with the Lakers, Bulls, Knicks and other franchises that either wholly own or partially own a part of the RSNs where they broadcast their games. 

I don’t have the answers to any of these questions which is why they are written here in this column. Unfortunately for the leagues, they don’t have the answers either. But if the NBA figures out a way to nationalize their product even more and make streaming games more appealing by ending local blackouts, it’ll benefit the game more than it hurts the game. 

NBA, NHL, and MLB games are still some of the highest-rated programs locally in many markets when you look at how they rate vs. other cable and broadcast offerings. But at this point, the ability to charge everyone for a program that only ten percent of subscribers are watching is a losing business proponent.

The leagues should start from scratch and sell a mass package of games for maximum profit. It gives fans a more centralized location to watch their favorite teams and puts the leagues on a much more steady path than where they could be headed sooner rather than later.

Diamond in the rough to sparkling jewel of light? Only time will tell.

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Do You Have Affirmations Of Gratitude?

“We are told to be grateful for what we have and remember it could be worse. That feels like a really low bar, right?”

Jeff Caves

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Having gratitude for your life is all the rage. If you, like me, have trouble starting your day with positive affirmations and maintaining a positive outlook about your job, read on! 

We are told to be grateful for what we have and remember it could be worse. That feels like a really low bar, right? Here is another version. Try a few affirmations of gratitude instead.

“I HAVE A JOB.”

With interest rates rising, inflation increasing, and spending down; corporations are laying people off. PayPal laid off 7% of its entire workforce. Amazon let 18,000 go. Alphabet (Google) said goodbye to 12,000 jobs. Radio sales managers need to hire people like you – experienced sellers with a track record of bringing home the bacon. 

I AM A PROBLEM SOLVER.”

You solve a problem for your company when it comes to revenue. You know people, and you sell advertising better than anything they can come up with…so far. 

Yes, they are trying to replace you, but Zoom Info reports iHeart’s self-serve spot buying service,  AdBuilder, is doing under 5 million in business. You have time to solidify your value. Be happy you are the rainmaker. 

I WORK IN THE PEOPLE BUSINESS.”

Sports talk radio is the ultimate companion to millions of listeners. They aren’t robots, and your stations improve their lives by talking about what they care about 24/7. Celebrate selling access to callers, Twitter followers and FANS who go to games. You also get to work with local celebrities that everybody knows but you know best. We all need a connection to other people and want to be seen and heard. 

“I GET TO CHANGE HOW I FEEL ABOUT MYSELF.”

In this job, you determine your value, feelings about your work, and who you work with. You get to set a strategy and talk to the businesspeople you want to help and do business with. It’s like running your own business with a tremendous support staff. Try to do it independently, and you will appreciate accounting, traffic, production, and sales assistance. Those wins produce deposits in your bank account.  

I HAVE COMPETITION!”

That format competitor across the street does things differently and sometimes better than you or tries to imitate you and looks terrible. They motivate you to beat them to a new account or put a moat around your best clients so they can’t be touched. They keep you sharp and willing to try new things. Good competition schemes to take money from your station, and your management needs you to protect them. And they also provide a place for you to work one day. The FTC wants to eliminate non-competes so you can walk across the street this year.  

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